School Cop Cleared of Sex Charge on Appeal

     AUSTIN (CN) — Texas prosecutors erred in charging a school district policeman for his sexual relations with a student because he never worked at the teen’s high school, the state’s highest criminal court affirmed.
     A Montgomery County jury convicted former Conroe Independent School District Sgt. Christopher Lee Sutton, 40, of five felony counts of improper relationship between educator and student in September 2014 and he was sentenced to 10 years probation. Conroe is an hour north of Houston.
     Sutton worked for the district from 1999 to February 2013, when he resigned after a fellow Conroe ISD officer found out he had sex with her son G.T. six times, court records show.
     Sutton’s attorney said his client initiated the relationship in August 2012 when he contacted G.T., then a 17-year-old student at Caney Creek High School, through Grindr, a hook-up app for gay men.
     The relationship cooled when G.T. began dating a high school football referee in December 2012. Sutton and G.T. had sex for the last time Feb. 1, 2013.
     Sutton resigned shortly after Valentine’s Day 2013 when the referee found text messages on G.T.’s phone from Sutton and told G.T.’s mother about the affair, the case record states.
     At trial, Sutton’s defense attorney argued that he could not be considered an “educator” under the statute because he was not an employee of Caney Creek High School.
     Though Sutton could have been dispatched for a service call to the school, he never set foot on the campus and his office was in the Conroe ISD police headquarters, his attorney told jurors.
     But Montgomery County prosecutors asked the jury to take a liberal reading of Section 21.12 of the Texas Education Code, which states: “An employee of a public or private primary or secondary school commits an offense if the employee: engages in sexual contact, sexual intercourse, or deviate sexual intercourse with a person who is enrolled in a public or private primary or secondary school at which the employee works.”
     Prosecutors persuaded the jury Sutton was a school employee, with evidence he oversaw two student organizations, Kid Chat, a crime-stoppers group that met once a week at Conroe ISD police headquarters to discuss how students could get paid for tips about crime on campus, and The Junior Leadership League, which hosted fund raisers for poor Conroe ISD students.
     “Neither of these were located on the campus of Caney Creek High School,” Sutton’s attorney said in an appeal brief.
     G.T. attended Kid Chat meetings led by Sutton, the record states.
     Sutton’s sentence required him to keep away from children younger than 18, other than his son, not to go to school campuses or day care centers, and to get counseling.
     Sutton appealed to the 9th Texas Court of Appeals in Beaumont, which acquitted him in a 2-1 ruling in which the majority agreed that Sutton was not an employee of the high school.
     The Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office sent a petition for discretionary review to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which affirmed the acquittal on Wednesday.
     “We conclude that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the jury’s verdict that appellant was an employee of CCHS,” Judge Bert Richardson wrote for the unanimous court.
     Section 21.12 of the Texas Education Code lets prosecutors charge certain employees — a nurse, school psychologist, professional counselor, family counselor, social worker, and speech therapist, among others — for having sex with students, even if they do not work on the same campus as the student.
     Prosecutors argued that though police officer is not on the list, Sutton’s involvement with school programs made him an employee.
     But the Criminal Court of Appeals stuck to the statute’s wording in affirming acquittal.
     “The state argues that the Legislature intended Section 21.12(a)(1) to apply to a broad class of school employees and that appellant would be included in that group. However, this argument ignores Section 21.12(a)(2), which expressly incorporates a specific list of school district employees to which the statute applies. Significantly, police officers are not included on that list,” Richardson wrote.
     “It is a general rule of statutory construction that the express mention of one thing is tantamount to an exclusion of others.”
     Sutton’s trial attorney William Pattillo said in an interview that he will move to expunge Sutton’s record.
     Montgomery County prosecutors also charged G.T.’s former boyfriend, the football referee, with a felony count of improper relationship between an educator-student for his relationship with G.T.
     Assistant District Attorney Tiana Sanford said her office dismissed the ref’s charges after the Criminal Court of Appeals affirmed Sutton’s acquittal.

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